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US Special Envoy arrives in Kabul ahead of new round of peace talks

Zalmay Khalizad, US Ambassdor and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York, captured during the session 'Understanding Iran's Foreign Policy' at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2008. (Monika Flueckiger/World Economic Forum)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban to end nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan has returned to Kabul ahead of a new round of talks.

Fereydoun Khuzon, deputy spokesman for the Afghan presidential administration, told RFE/RL on April 1 that he expects the visit of U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to pave the way for the start of direct talks between the government and the Taliban.

Khalilzad, the chief negotiator with the Taliban, has held several rounds of peace talks with the militant group in Qatar. But the Western-backed government in Kabul has complained it is being left out of the negotiations, with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with what they consider “a U.S. puppet.”

Khalilzad appears to have hit the ground trying to smooth those complaints and facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations.

“We discussed the urgency of making progress on intra-Afghan dialogue,” Khalilzad tweeted on April 1.

The growing rift between Kabul and Washington over the talks with the Taliban erupted in public view on March 14, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national-security adviser harshly criticized Khalilzad, a veteran, Afghan-born U.S. diplomat.

During a visit to Washington, Hamdullah Mohib accused the U.S. envoy of “delegitimizing” the government by excluding it from the negotiations, acting like a “viceroy,” and harboring personal ambitions in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad’s trip also comes amid heightened tensions between Kabul and Islamabad over recent statements made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that suggested that Afghanistan should set up an interim government.

Khan told Pakistani journalists on March 25 that such a move would help the talks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators, since the militant group refuses to speak to the current government.

Afghanistan has recalled its Islamabad ambassador and summoned Pakistan’s deputy ambassador to Kabul to discuss what a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman called the “irresponsible” remarks by Khan.

In a statement on March 27, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said that Khan’s comments had been “reported out of context in the media, leading to unwarranted reaction from various quarters.”